Physical Signs of Alcoholism

If you begin to notice the physical signs of alcoholism in yourself or a loved one, it’s time to seek help.

Perhaps the best known physical symptom of alcoholism is the tremor known as delirium tremens, which sometimes affects only the hands but other times affects the whole body. There are many other physical signs and symptoms of alcoholism, however.

Common Physical Signs of Alcoholism

There are some common signs of alcoholism you might notice when you look at someone else that has a serious drinking problem, including:

  • Trembling hands (this common symptom of alcoholism is called delirium tremens and usually occurs when someone begins to withdraw from alcohol)
  • Full body tremors
  • Yellowish skin or yellowing of the whites of the eyes (a sign of liver damage called jaundice)
  • Pale skin (a result of iron deficiency, sometimes referred to as anemia, common in alcoholics)
  • Restlessness, difficulty sitting still
  • Seizures (get medical help immediately if you or a loved one has a seizure and you aren’t sure of the cause or think it may be alcohol-induced)

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Other Physical Symptoms

You can’t see every physical symptom of alcoholism just by looking at someone, though.  Some other symptoms can be detected by simple medical tests, like these:

  • Vitamin B12 deficiency, vitamin B1 (thiamine deficiency), and other vitamin and mineral deficiencies (detected with simple blood tests)
  • Liver problems (often can be detected by simple blood tests)
  • High blood pressure (checked with an easy-to-use device called a sphygmomanometer; you don’t even need to see a doctor for this test, since many pharmacies have sphygmomanometers available for patients to check their blood pressure in the store and you can also purchase one at a reasonable cost for use at home)
  • Irregular heartbeat (often can be detected simply by taking your pulse)
  • High blood sugar in diabetics (this can be tested at home with a glucometer, an easy-to-use device most diabetics already own)

Still other physical symptoms of alcoholism, like ulcers, nerve damage, and changes in the structure of the brain (leading to dementia and serious psychological problems) require more complicated medical tests to diagnose.

A doctor can evaluate any symptoms you have and determine if further tests are needed. For example, if you have symptoms that suggest an ulcer, a doctor might recommend an endoscopy, a procedure in which a tiny camera is used to inspect the inside of your throat, stomach, and the upper portion of your small intestine.

If You Notice Physical Signs of Alcoholism

Physical Signs of Alcoholism

If you notice physical signs of alcoholism in yourself or a loved you, an evaluation by a physician is in order. A diagnosis of alcoholism isn’t made on the basis of one physical symptom of alcoholism; it’s made on the basis of how alcohol affects a person, whether or not it’s causing problems in his life and whether or not he is able to stop drinking if he wants to.

A doctor will, however, determine if the symptoms you’re experiencing are in fact related to alcohol use or abuse and recommend the appropriate treatment. 

Treatment for physical symptoms related to alcoholism will include symptom-specific treatment; for instance, treatment for iron deficiency will include taking iron supplements and treatment for high blood pressure may include both medication and dietary changes.

However, you’ll also need to stop drinking if your alcohol use has caused medical problems like these. Your doctor can probably refer you to a treatment center for alcoholics where you can get the help you need to stop drinking. If your doctor doesn’t offer a referral, ask for one.

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